The office of the Speaker is almost as old as Parliament itself. References to the office of the Speaker in England are recorded as early as 1376. The original function of the Speaker was to “speak” to the reigning monarch, presenting petitions and grievances from the “commoners”.
There were times when the monarch did not like the Speaker’s message. Legend tells of some Speakers who lost their heads as a result of royal displeasure.
In keeping with tradition, the Speaker wears a black silk robe with a white tab collar and, when parading into and out of the Chamber, a tri-cornered hat. As a sign of respect for the office, Members bow to the Speaker’s Chair whenever entering or leaving the Chamber or when crossing in front of the Chair during a sitting. Everyone in the Chamber rises when the Speaker’s Parade enters or leaves the Commons.
The importance of the Speaker’s role is underscored by the fact that the Constitution requires the House of Commons to elect a Speaker as the first item of business conducted when a new Parliament is formed. Led by the Clerk of the House, the Members go to the Senate Chamber where they are informed by a Deputy to the Governor General that the Speech from the Throne will not be read until they have elected their own Speaker.
From Confederation to 1986, the ritual for choosing Speakers changed little. On the first meeting day of any Parliament, the Prime Minister would make a short speech on the importance of the speakership and nominate a Member to take the Chair. The motion was usually seconded by the Leader of the Opposition. Following speeches and the House adopting the motion, the Clerk declared the new Speaker elected.
In the mid-1980s, the House agreed to begin electing its Speaker by secret ballot. The list of candidates includes all Members except Ministers, Party Leaders and those Members who have withdrawn their names from consideration. Members write the name of the candidate of their choice on the ballot. Voting continues until one Member receives a majority of the votes cast.
The election of a Speaker by secret ballot first took place on September 30, 1986.
The Speaker acts as spokesperson for the House to the Senate and the Crown. Shortly after being elected, the Speaker leads the House to the Senate to inform the Governor General that the House of Commons has elected a Speaker according to law, to claim the privileges of office on behalf of the House and to receive the Speech from the Throne. The Speaker also leads the Members of the House to the Royal Assent Ceremony when it is held in the Senate Chamber, and reads messages from the Sovereign, the Governor General or the Senate in the House of Commons.
When the House is sitting, the Speaker maintains order and enforces the rules of debate by applying and interpreting the practices and traditions of the House. To do this, the Speaker must rely on the Standing Orders (the written rules of the House), precedents and various procedural authorities. His or her actions must always be and appear to be impartial. For this reason, the Speaker never participates in debate nor votes in the House except in the case of a tie. The Speaker also does not attend weekly caucus meetings, where Senators and Members of Parliament who belong to the same party discuss policies and strategy.
In overseeing the proceedings of the House, the Speaker seeks to maintain the balance between two fundamental operating principles of Parliament: to allow the majority to conduct business in an orderly manner and to protect the right of the minority to be heard.
The authority of the Speaker is wide-ranging, affecting such matters as disturbances in the Chamber, the conduct of proceedings and the rules of debate. For example, Members must always address the Speaker and may never speak directly to one another in debate. Even during Question Period, questions are addressed through the Chair. The Speaker has the authority to recognize participants and can call to order any Member who indulges in repetition or irrelevant arguments.
The Speaker is ranked fifth in Canada's Table of Precedence, behind the Governor General, the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the Speaker of the Senate.
The Speaker welcomes many visiting dignitaries and delegations to Parliament, and represents the House of Commons at national events and at foreign legislatures.
The Speaker oversees the administration of the House of Commons, which supports the activities of the House and provides a wide range of services to Members. The Speaker also chairs the Board of Internal Economy, which, much like a board of directors, oversees all financial and administrative matters concerning the operation of the House of Commons.
The Speaker remains a Member of Parliament representing a federal riding and is expected to carry out duties in the riding. The Speaker must be re-elected as a Member of Parliament before standing for re-election as Speaker.
The Speaker’s Chair that now stands in the House of Commons Chamber was presented as a gift by the United Kingdom Branch of the Empire Parliamentary Association to the Canadian House of Commons on May 20, 1921. The beautifully carved chair replaced the one destroyed in the fire that swept through the Parliament Buildings in 1916. It is an exact replica of the chair that stood in the British House of Commons at the time.
The Honourable Andrew Scheer was born and raised in Ottawa, Ontario. He studied history and politics at the University of Ottawa and the University of Regina where he received a Bachelor of Arts. He was first elected to the House of Commons as the Conservative Member of Parliament for Regina – Qu’Appelle in 2004 and was re-elected in 2006, 2008 and 2011.
In the 39th Parliament, he served as the Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole. In 2008, during the 40th Parliament, he became the Deputy Speaker. On June 2, 2011 he was elected Speaker after 6 rounds of secret ballots. At 32 years old, Mr. Scheer became the youngest elected speaker of the House of Commons in Canadian history.
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